Despite a week that included questions to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, an appearance by MCHLG ministers before the select committee, to be quizzed on departmental priorities and Prime Minister’s Questions, there was little raised directly affecting private renting – a blessed relief, some might say!
Together with a statement on building safety from Sajid Javid on Thursday, following the failure of a fire door from Grenfell Tower failing to meet its fire resistance standards, fire safety and remediation of blocks with defective cladding again dominated. The statement advised that no further action was required following the tests, but did highlight the fact that many fire safety failings, across all tenures, are unrelated to cladding issues, and while there is a focus on high rises and defective cladding freeholders, leaseholders, owner occupiers, social and private landlords and building managers cannot ignore their other obligations.
Minsters were pressed by members of the HCLG select on the time taken to rehouse those affected by Grenfell, and on the time taken to identify and test those privately-owned blocks with high risk cladding.
One common area of concern across all three sessions was the burden being faced by leaseholders in meeting both the cost of ongoing safety measures and the eventual cost of removing and replacing defective cladding. While MCHLG’s official line is that freeholders have a moral obligation to replace cladding, it is becoming clear that the courts are finding that lease terms mean leaseholders must pay. MPs are increasingly calling for the government to take action, and bring the relevant parties round the table to discuss a more equitable outcome. Otherwise, thousands of properties within affected tower blocks will be blighted by huge service charges and a bill for remediation works that outweighs the value of the property.
Questions to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy featured the smart meter roll-out. The Government wants us all to have smart meters installed in the next few years, and paints a rosy picture of satisfaction and savings on energy costs. A number of awkward MPs begged to paint a different picture. Issues highlighted, following the installation of such meters included bills going up instead of down, failure of the mobile network signal, lack of transparency on the cost of roll-out, and the fact that the current generation of smart meters don’t work if customers change supplier. No-one can be forced to install a smart meter, and it may be best to see how the second generation of meters operate before taking the leap!
At this time of year, landlords would normally be generating a collective groan, as the Chancellor dreams up new ways of squeezing the PRS. However, Philip Hammond promised change, when he switched the Spring Budget and Autumn Statement, and promised only one fiscal event in the autumn. The Spring Statement was to be a dull affair, that would set out the country’s financial position and outline consultations on measures that could be introduced in November’s Budget. And, would you believe, he has been as good as his word! No shocks, nor surprises and, more tellingly, no new consultations that will have a major impact on landlords tax affairs. A small cheer for Spreadsheet Phil then, even if there’s no sign of backtracking on MIR or SDLT, either.
A number of survey results, statistics and research were published over the week. According to Countrywide, private landlords are making almost £87,000 on average when the sell a property –
before capital gains tax, of course. And no mention of the sample size, or how long these properties had been held, on average, before selling. The Bank of England published stats showing buy-to-let lending at its lowest level for 5 years, while Retirement Advantage report showed a large drop in the number of people willing to become buy-to-let landlords to support their retirement income. The Office for Budget Responsibility also highlighted ‘subdued growth in residential investment’.
Finally, a survey by a landlord insurance firm also suggested that just 4% of landlords and tenants were aware of the new energy efficiency standards being introduce in April. However, the RLA’s member survey showed almost 90% of members were aware of the new standards – proof of the value of association membership, when it comes to being kept informed of the many legal changes affecting landlords – and that for tenants, that RLA landlord is a better landlord!